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Last year the FAA attempted to hit Raphael Pirker with a $10,000 fine for flying his RC model (aka "drone") over a university campus in the USA.
Pirker had been commissioned by the university's marketing company to create footage for a video that would promote the institution to prospective students.
The video was actually made several years ago and had been widely seen for quite some time before the FAA decided to ping Pirker.
Pirker and his lawyer argued that the FAA had no authority to regulate RC models since Congress had specifically stated that the Administration may not create new laws in respect to these models.
Next thing we knew, the issue was in court and in an initial ruling, Pirker won his case, effectively embarrassing the FAA. As we all know, embarrassing a government department is a very dangerous thing to do and the FAA soon appealed to the NTSB (another government agency). That agency issued its decision this week -- and it's not good for Pirker.
Here's a copy of that NTSB decision.
Now this decision is incredibly interesting and far-reaching, perhaps in ways that the FAA had not expected.
Firstly, it clearly states that *anything* which flies through the air now falls under the definition of an "aircraft" and is thus subject to the FAA's regulations and control.
Before I get into farcical situations this creates, I have to say that the aspirations of this decision are sound.
Effectively it tries to ensure that any use of an RC model aircraft or "drone" that endangers life or property is subject to prosecution and punishment. You can't argue that this is not a good thing. The last thing we want is for idiots to have a right to behave in a reckless or dangerous fashion and be exempted from any responsibility simply because they choose to use an RC model or "drone" to perform such acts.
However, the method by which this worthy goal has been achieved is far from sensible.
By declaring *anything* that flies through the air to meet the definition of an "aircraft", the FAA has just entered realms it ought not be involved in.
One of the biggest sporting bodies in the USA is the PGA (Professional Golf Association) of America.
Until this week, the PGA didn't have to worry about the bureaucrats over at the FAA -- but now they do.
You see... golf balls are now aircraft.
Because they are something which flies through the air and have special design features (such as the dimples) which have no purpose other than to aid that flight.
What's more, the PGA is a group of *professionals* and therefore they're using "aircraft" for commercial purposes -- something that the FAA will not allow, unless you have their authority to do so -- and that usually involves certifications, fees, licenses and other hurdles to be jumped.
It would appear, based on the ruling given this week, that all professional golfers are now in breach of the FAA's regulations in one form or another.
I'm pretty sure that the NTSB didn't consider this side-effect when they made this week's ruling -- but it's a side effect that could come back to bite them on the bum.
The same goes for professional badminton players (if there are any), archers, footballers and all manner of other sportspeople whose chosen game involves the use of a ball or other device that "flies through the air"
Of course the FAA will say "we will not be so silly as to try and enforce our regulations on the PGA -- but then you have the horrible anomaly where the authority responsible for enforcing its rules chooses to work with an uneven hand -- exempting some from those provisions but not others. This is *BAD* law.
Now the big problem with *BAD* law is that it garners no respect from those it is meant to control. Laws that are not respected are often ignored -- and thus become far less effective than they ought to be.
It would appear that the FAA's tantrum over the Pirker case has resulted in them now looking like a bunch of buffoons who, in recruiting their mates at the NTSB to reverse the court's previous (very sensible) decision, have just lost the respect of a huge swathe of the very people they seek to control.
So it seems that the FAA blunders from one stuff-up to another in its piss-poor attempts to control "drones", seemingly driven more by an unwillingness to lose face than a desire to ensure the safety of the national airspace. I could say that there's another country where this is also very much the case -- but I don't think I need to tell anyone here about that situation.
Bureaucrats seem to be made of the same stuff the world-over and seem to have little understanding of human behaviour and the need to foster respect within the groups you seek to control.
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